(1714–89). French painter. A pupil of Natoire and de Troy, he won the Prix de Rome in 1734 and spent the next five years in Italy. His first exhibited pictures were genre scenes, but attacks by the critics on the ‘unworthiness’ of such subject matter turned him exclusively towards history painting, with which he was to earn both fame and fortune. His Beheading of S. John the Baptist (Avignon, Mus. Calvet), which was exhibited at the 1761 Paris Salon, is a good example of his solemn and academic style. From about 1763 Pierre virtually stopped painting to concentrate on his career as an official. As First Painter to the King (from 1770) and director of the Académie Royale (See under Paris) (from 1778) he was one of the most influential figures in the art world in the last years of the ancien régime. He used his powers to promote government funding of large-scale history painting, an important condition for the triumph of Neoclassicism in France in the 1780s.
From The Oxford Companion to Western Art in Oxford Reference.